Estonian centre-right coalition heads for poll win

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:29 PM

By David Mardiste

TALLINN (Reuters) - Estonia's center-right government was headed for victory in Sunday's election, early results showed, with the coalition getting credit for a successful adoption of the euro and ending a deep recession.

The results of 241,000 votes cast, out of just over 912,000 eligible voters, put the Reform Party of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and its partner, Pro Patria and Res Republica Union, at more than 50 percent support and a majority in the 101-seat parliament.

The Reform Party campaigned under a slogan of "You can be sure" and touted its credentials as a good economic manager of the nation of 1.3 million people.

The early results gave the Reform Party 33 percent support and Pro Patria and Res Republica Union on 23 percent.

Political analysts believe the Baltic state will stick to its policies of keeping a tight rein on finances, which allowed it to become the 17th country to adopt the euro in January, with the lowest debt burden in the European Union.

"The key issue is how do we get out of the recession and back on to the road to success -- it is about the future," said civil servant Siiri Aulik, 43.

Most opinion polls had shown Reform winning the vote, though one on Tuesday predicted Ansip might need to negotiate with a third party, possibly the center-left Social Democrats, to secure a majority.

The Center Party, the main opposition group, has been hit by allegations it asked for funding from Russia, Estonia's neighbor which is traditionally regarded with distrust. The party has denied the allegations.

Russia has often criticized Estonia for failing to properly integrate its large Russian-speaking minority, many of whom do not have citizenship and cannot vote in national elections. Estonia has rejected such criticism.

The Social Democrats entered the government with Ansip after the last election in 2007, but that coalition split.

RECOVERY FROM OUTPUT SLUMP

Ansip's government was a minority one for a while, but defections from smaller parties eventually gave it 51 seats.

Estonia suffered a drop of 14 percent in economic output during the 2009 recession, the third worst in the EU after fellow Baltic states Latvia and Lithuania.

The government had to cut spending to keep its budget deficit within euro-zone limits to adopt the currency.

Estonia remains one of the poorest countries in the EU, which it entered in 2004, the same year it joined NATO.

Its fiscal situation is sound -- the European Commission has forecast a total public sector budget deficit of 1.6 percent of output for 2011, in line with the euro area average.

State debt, forecast at 9.5 percent of output for this year, will be by far the lowest in the euro zone and well below the average 86.5 percent of gross domestic product. The government has pledged to get the budget back in balance by 2014.

(Reporting by David Mardiste, additional reporting by Patrick Lannin in Stockholm; Editing by Matthew Jones)